Collaboration Thwarts Planned Attack
In April 2006, six students from the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks, AK, planned a Columbine-style attack at North Pole Middle School. Working quickly, local law enforcement, the school district, and the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative responded to foil the plot and allay public concerns. Fairbanks was able to prevent a potentially tragic and deadly incident because of the collaboration among community agencies and organizations fostered by SS/HS and the initiative’s youth violence prevention programs. Those same two factors are also at the foundation of this community’s long-term efforts to prevent youth violence by promoting healthy child development for students and families throughout the community.
It all started when a concerned parent heard credible rumors that students planned to attack the middle school. The parent promptly reported this information to local law enforcers, who then immediately reached out to the school district’s safety officer—a district funded position and critical part of the SS/HS team. The safety officer then relayed the news to both school administration and the local SS/HS initiative. The collaboration between these SS/HS partners allowed for a coordinated, collective effort to avert the crisis. As law enforcement focused on the investigation and subsequent arrest of six students, the school district and the SS/HS initiative worked to inform parents and the public about the crisis. The Fairbanks SS/HS initiative also provided critical follow-up support services to students and families.
Counselors from SS/HS school sites were made available to provide counseling to North Pole Middle School students. The SS/HS initiative assisted in parent outreach by sharing information about how to participate in the initiative’s youth violence prevention programs, they published and distributed a brochure designed to help parents discuss safety and alleviate their children’s anxiety.
"We wanted to help the district let our community know we’re tackling the issues of youth violence. And we wanted to let parents know there are things they can do at home [to prevent youth violence]. Kids need to feel safe in reporting these things to their parents and school officials,” said Heather Stewart, former project director for the Fairbanks SS/HS initiative.
While no community is immune from such an incident, violent crime rates in Fairbanks and the surrounding area exceed State levels. The murder rate in the Fairbanks North Star Borough is three times that of the statewide average; aggravated assaults are five times that of the statewide rate. Youth under age 18 are responsible for 30 percent of those crimes. Breaking the cycle of violence has been at the heart of the local SS/HS initiative in Fairbanks since it was funded in 2003, and the events of April 2006 prove that this goal is achievable when communities and schools work together.
As part of their larger effort to break the cycle of violence, the Fairbanks SS/HS collaborative has established a number of programs designed to teach children the skills to overcome the behavioral obstacles that can lead to violence. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program teaches children to recognize and take a stand against bullying. Teachers use Second Step, a classroom-based violence prevention program, to incorporate lessons about empathy, problem-solving, and impulse control into the learning environment. Elementary school behavior aides work directly with challenging students to help them develop constructive ways to behave.
Recognizing that healthy children come from healthy families, the Fairbanks SS/HS initiative provides parents with meaningful support, resources, and information. Their Parent University and Family Toolbox Series has offered parenting classes and supplementary materials on topics ranging from recognizing signs of depression and substance abuse in children to Internet safety. Fairbanks also offers an extensive online resource guide for parents in search of support services for their families. The SS/HS partners also maintain a “Parent Warm Line,” which allows parents seeking guidance to speak directly with counselors. Promoting these services to concerned parents was a key part of thwarting the attacks and preventing further incidents.
While grant funding for the Fairbanks SS/HS collaborative has come to an end, their commitment to safe and healthy families and preventing youth violence has been sustained. When a serious threat of school violence loomed in April 2006, the Fairbanks initiative acted in concert to thwart the planned attack on the school and to reach out to students, parents, and the community to inform, educate, and counsel. Today, these same partners continue their work together to chip away at the cycle of violence and promote a healthy and safe school climate for all of the children they serve.